NEW YORK - From the time "60 Minutes" began in 1968, the first face viewers saw after the ticking stopwatch has been Mike Wallace's - until now.
Ed Bradley will replace Wallace in that prominent position when "60 Minutes" begins its new season on Sunday, a further indication of a changing of the guard at television's first and still most popular newsmagazine.
With Dan Rather rejoining "60 Minutes" and the show absorbing personnel from the canceled "60 Minutes II," there will be nine correspondents competing for space each week on a broadcast that generally runs three stories.
Sunday's broadcast will feature Lesley Stahl's interview with Roy Hallums, an American held hostage for 10 months in Iraq, a Steve Kroft story on the search for Osama bin Laden and Bradley's profile of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
Instead of his booming voice announcing, "I'm Mike Wallace," at the beginning of each broadcast, Wallace will instead be at the end of the opening segment, saying "these stories and Andy Rooney, tonight on '60 Minutes.'"
It's a change that would be little noted on most broadcasts. But the opening is serious business at "60 Minutes," and Wallace is the iconic figure the show has long been identified with.
Wallace is expected to have a more limited role on the show, with five or six stories this season, said Jeff Fager, "60 Minutes" executive producer.
"In some ways it fits even better with what his role is on the broadcast these days," Fager said. "Mike still has it. He still pulls it off. Sometimes he can't remember what he had for breakfast but he can still pin someone down on an interview."
Wallace, 87, was traveling in Europe on a story Wednesday and could not immediately be reached, his assistant said.
"Mike's been saying he's going to cut back for the last five years and he hasn't really done it," Kroft said. "I think Mike will be in there pitching and will be going for the big interviews."
Bradley, Kroft and Stahl are now the featured players on "60 Minutes" and their faces will be seen each week in the opening. Wallace, Rather, Morley Safer, Scott Pelley, Bob Simon and Lara Logan have all been assigned producers and will also do stories.
It's a crowded lineup at a rough-and-tumble broadcast where correspondents already compete, sometimes heatedly, for airtime.
"It's like managing an all-star team," Fager said. "Not everybody gets in as many innings but the quality of the play is better. This place has always been competitive. They all want to get on the air so they're making their stories better. Who's that bad for besides the competition?"
Fager would not say when Rather, who's hardly been seen on the network since stepping down as "CBS Evening News" anchorman in March, would be on the air.
"It's been tough for him," Fager said. "Let's face it: It's a big transition from the anchor chair, no matter where you go. But he's really working hard at it. It's just going to take some time to get used to not doing what he had been doing in such a prominent place for so long."